Zimbabwe has so lost control over its international image that it is assumed nothing works in the country. What this means is that it is almost impossible now to put anything that takes place there into calm perspective. The very strong pro and con emotions that the symbolism of the name “Zimbabwe” arouse all over the world means that it is now often used to score ideological points, regardless of the truth or otherwise of the data being used as ammunition.
It has become very difficult now to read reports of Zimbabwe and separate fact from fiction, fact from opinion, analysis/opinion from out and out propaganda. Unfortunately, just as the actions of the symbolic “Mugabe” have taken on a self-fulfilling prophesy for the British media, so too have the shrillness of that media taken on a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Zimbabwean government. The war of attrition between the two foes becomes ever more bitter, making both look ridiculous as they goad each other to further extremes.
An example are the excerpts of the interview below, on the British website Cross Rhythms , entitled “A tragic murder in Zimbabwe.”
On Thursday 21st June, City Drive presenter Jonathan Bellamy interviewed Zimbabwean Robert MacDonald in response to the tragic news that on Sunday 10th June two members of his family had been murdered by soldiers when the minibus they were traveling in was stopped at a roadblock.
Jonathan : Robert, I just want to ask you a little bit about your background, cause at the moment apparently more people die in Zimbabwe than in Iraq, which sounds like a staggering statistic cause we get so much focus of what is happening in Iraq. Can you try to give us an overview of what life is like in Zimbabwe at the moment?
Robert : Well more people die in Zimbabwe than Iraq and the Dhafur regions put together. Life is a living hell in that country.
Jonathan : And this is all with Robert Mugabe’s administration. How do you view the administration then Mr MacDonald, living under it?
Robert : People are crying, we are free at last, we are free at last; but they didn’t know the hidden agenda of Robert Mugabe, and as the years went on he’s tightened his grip on the political situation in Zimbabwe by eliminating vast amounts of his opposition…
Now, we know things have deteriorated significantly in Zimbabwe over the years and are far from where we would like them to be. No one can deny Mugabe’s preparedness to ruthlessly trample over any opposition when he perceives it to be a real threat.
And that the death rate is high we all know. We have become accustomed to the sad frequency of death and funerals, whether or not the numbers are comparable to those in war-torn Iraq. But the high death rate is due to AIDS, and this “interview” so far very cleverly puts the blame directly at Mugabe’s door. Mugabe has many sins to answer for, and even with AIDS/stress/ hunger deaths, I suppose one could still stretch and attribute some of the blame to him, on the basis that if the country were not in crisis there would be more resources to treat people for longer, but that is reaching.
When an interview starts off on this sort of dishonest note, one can’t help wondering about the rest to follow.
Jonathan : Mr. MacDonald, I know that you yourself have gone through torture and beating. Would you be able to describe that and just explain the background to it as well?
Robert : Well I had a very profitable mixed farming ranch business in Zimbabwe and 40% of my profits were shared between the workers on the farm. It was highly profitable. One evening I was raided by the so-called war veterans and the CIO. I was dragged outside and tied to a tree, and they left me where and went to the village where my workers were and they herded the villagers into a house and set the house alight, and my co-workers perished in that fire. They came back and they started beating me and they started to have a wild party, slaughtering some of the cattle,
feasting, beating me every now and then. After three days with a broken arm and a broken leg and a broken nose, I was taken down to the river and thrown in and left there for the crocodiles to eat. I came too (sic) and managed to crawl to a village three miles away to ask for help.
A truly horrific experience. We know many unspeakable things have indeed been perpetrated on citizens over the years. For a whole “village” to have perished in a fire like this, there will surely be plenty of at least anecdotal evidence of this atrocity when the time comes. As for McDonad’s claimed heroic escape, one must give him the benefit of the doubt…
Jonathan : For yourself Robert, you’re a Christian I believe aren’t you?
Robert : I am.
Jonathan : How, as a Christian, do you look back on what you’ve suffered at the hands of the hit squad, how do you focus and reconcile the experiences you’ve been through?
Robert : Well, it’s difficult you know. But when I think of what my Lord went through for me on Calvary, that He went all the way and died for me while I was a rotten sinner, I got nothing to hate. I don’t hate that man, I hate what he’s doing.
Hit squad? Many Zimbabweans have indeed been targeted for abuse by State agents, but I am confused by not being given the context in which MacDonald would be targeted by “the hit squad.” Without this information, it sounds fanciful for him to claim to have been the target of such a squad. The interviewer does not help clear up the confusion and my suspicions by leaving a lot of background information out, and by sounding like he knows more about his interviewee than he is telling his readers. My suspicious mind can’t help asking: informational interview on tragic events, or merely point-scoring anti-Mugabe propaganda?
Jonathan : I understand in the last couple of weeks since we put the article up on the
site, you’ve had some more sad and terrifying developments in your own family? Can you explain what they are?
Robert : They were traveling in a mini-bus and they were stopped at a roadblock and everybody in the mini-bus was shot dead.
Jonathan : This is your sister-in-law and nephew?
Robert : That’s right. You see, the soldiers haven’t been paid for two years, and they pillage, they rape; they murder, they raid the farms wherever they can get a bit of food. They kill and take for themselves. You know there’s no law and order left in the country anymore.
Phew! I am sorry about his relatives’ deaths, but we have not yet reached a stage where bus-loads of travelers are shot-dead at roadblocks, even in lawless Zimbabwe! Does anyone know of a recent (June 2007) mass minibus death in Zimbabwe, even one attributed to something other than mass murder by the police or army, like perhaps a claimed accident? In today’s environment, would it be possible for news of such a massacre, on a public highway, to not get out into the world? Why is such a horrific claimed massacre dealt with so passingly in the interview? Why were the many other questions any other interviewer would want to know about such a thing not asked here?
Jonathan : How did you manage to escape from Zimbabwe? And what about the rest of your family?
Robert : It took me a month to cross the border. I swam across the Limpopo into South Africa where I was hospitalised for six months. My wife and my daughter were placed under house arrest in a town called Bulawayo, and she had been beaten several times and arrested. And then just before Christmas I managed to raise a bit of funds and she
escaped through the bushfelt (sic) , through the jungle, and people helped her to swim across the crocodile infested Limpopo river.
Jonathan : Wow. Robert now that you are here in the UK and you can honestly speak out much more freely. What is your focus? Obviously you are doing this interview with us, you’re raising awareness. What would you want to encourage listeners in a response to what you’re sharing?
It is well documented that there are many Zimbabweans who have indeed sought opportunities in South Africa through the route mentioned above, but my suspicions about other parts of this interview make me sceptical about the veracity of MacDonald’s version of how he got out of the country. I don’t wish to be unkind, but the picture of him posted with the story is an additional reason for my doubts that he would be in a position to swim the crocodile-infested Limpopo! And why would he need to, or his wife for that matter?
He mentions being chased off his farm, but does not then give us the explanation for why he and his family would be additionally persecuted afterwards the way he claims they were. There have been reports of this sort of thing happening to senior MDC activists like Roy Bennett and his wife, who also gave the regime a torrid time by strongly resisting efforts to kick off their farm, raising the ire of the regime on two separate levels. Yet here we have no indication of what would cause the regime to take MacDonald and his wife as such serious threats that even after he “escaped,” his wife and daughter had to be placed under “house arrest.”
This “interview” has a lot of suspicious holes in it and stinks to me. Mugabe has made it very easy for his regime to be the bad guys by their destruction of Zimbabwe and their intemperate language on the world stage. There are countless ways in which his cruelties and failures can be criticised with years of document-able evidence. It should therefore not be necessary to use this kind of shoddy, unprofessional propaganda to make the point that things in Zimbabwe are far from how they should be.
There are some who are so blinded in their hatred of Mugabe for many reasons that they would say whether the points used to criticise/demonise him are true or not is immaterial. But then the kind of Zimbabwe media feeding frenzy that we see from sections of the British media, this being an example, does nothing for “raising awareness” of the Zimbabwe situation. If anything, it makes that media look even more shrill and emotional in their hatred of Mugabe, making people like myself question their credibility as much as I doubt Mugabe’s.
It must be possible to separate the abhorrence of a country’s rulers from character assassination of the country itself with lies and propaganda.